June 17, 2013

#20 The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

Shameless Pandering for Gifts

It happens to be my birthday today and if you would like to give me the gift of Goosebumps feel free to buy me a book off of my Amazon wishlist: http://amzn.com/w/6REQ148ZCYQI . If not (and I fully expect no one to) read on!

Judging a Book by its Cover

The cover does its job. It's a kinda creepy scarecrow, what did you expect? Why does it have to be a full moon? Isn't a crescent moon spooky enough? I guess not.

The tagline on the front is "It's a Field of Screams!" Now that is the kind of excellent punwork I expect on the front of a Goosebumps book. It almost makes up for the boring as heck, "They're Alive!" on the back. All in all a C+ for taglines.

Ultimately there is not much to talk about on the cover so lets just jump right in.

Getting Goosebumps

This book is from the first person perspective of generic tween girl Jodie and her slightly younger brother Mark. They are going to their grandparent's corn farm for the summer. Jodie is excited but Mark packed his bag with 90's entertainment staples like a Walkman with cassettes, and a Gameboy with plenty of cartridges. Hopefully he packed a crapload of double A batteries too.

Now at gramps' farm there lives Stanley and his son, E-I-E-I-O. Ahem, sorry about that. Stanley is kind of a Simpleton who works for the grandparents. He lives in the guesthouse with his teenage son Sticks. Where is the mom in the picture? I think I am giving that more thought than RL Stine did. She's just not there, now forget about it. Besides being a simpleton, Stanley also believes in superstition. He has a large book that tells him about good and bad luck. Also he mentions that, "the scarecrow walks at midnight." Because that's what the title of the book is so someone had better damn well say it in the story! Still a creepy thing for a weird simpleton to be saying to young people who just arrived at a farm. Plus it must be true because OH NO A SCARECROW JUST GRABBED JODIE'S ARM! Oh wait, that was just Sticks showing up and goofing around. Nevermind people it's only the very beginning of the book and I totally though shit was gonna start going down already. My bad. But Stanley does insist he can make them walk for real. Silly dumb guy.

Being at the grandparent's farm holds a lot of memories for Jodie and Mark. They spend most of their summers there. Grandma always makes delicious pancakes. Grandpa always tells them scary stories. But on this trip Grandma says they eat cornflakes now because its healthier. Grandpa can't even remember any scary stories. That's not the only thing that's odd. During the night the kids could have sworn they saw all the scarecrows Stanley made out there moving in unison. When they bring it up to grandpa he tells them to drop it.

They forget about it and go off fishing with Stanley. It goes well until Jodie starts thinking about scarecrows. One reaches out from the water and grabs her! She falls in and discovers it was only weeds on her ankles. Later on she thinks she thinks she sees a scarecrow lurking around the creek. She informs Stanley who is awfully worried and runs off. She decides to go tell her grandpa about it. She goes to the barn and gets locked inside by another scarecrow! Her daring escape is made after she finds a rope in the loft. There is a scarecrow outside waiting for her. As she makes her get away she bumps into Sticks and is suddenly very convinced that this is all his doing. Apparently he likes to spook "city kids."

Naturally with all this scarin' Jodie has problems falling asleep. She tries counting sheep. She tries counting cows. Then the scarecrow comes! The horrifying unliving being has her grandpa's face. In her terrified state she bolts from her room to find scarecrow granny. Eek! It's a dream! Because that happens in every single Goosebumps book!

In the Jodie and Mark wake to find that only grandma is home serving up another boring breakfast. The guys
have gone into town. They're urged to go ride horses, which they do. Two old nags are saddled up for them. They trot around for awhile before yet another scarecrow pops out for a fright. They're thrown from the horses and helped back up by Stanley. Urging them to keep this a secret from grandpa he rushes off to take care of the scarecrow. Even though Jodie still kinda thinks it's sticks she informs the grandparents, who laugh it off as Sticks' pranks.

Clearly what Jodie has to do is confront Sticks. She looks for him in the barn again unworried about getting locked in this time, and finds some scarecrow clothes, kerosine, and torches. Her snooping isn't appreciated by Sticks who shows up assuring her it isn't him. But she saw his stash of scarecrow clothes! Immediately she hatches a plan with Mark to scare sticks. The plan is to dress little bro up like a scarecrow and convince Sticks the scarecrows really are walking around. Not overly elaborate but it might be effective. With Mark in position all scarecrow'd up Jodie goes to get Sticks' attention. On the way she sees that for some reason Mark is following... But it's not Mark. It must be Sticks. To put the kibosh on that theory Sticks comes out and throttles the scarecrow, which is in fact a real walking scarecrow.

It turns out, according to Sticks, that simple ol' Stanley learned how to bring scarecrows to life from his book. He made an army and used it to control the Grandparents. That's why they serve things he likes, and don't tell scarey stories, which he hates. They are terrified of him. Because they started appeasing him he undid the spell, but clearly some scarecrows are still alive. Sticks wanted to keep it secret so Stanley didn't redo the spell but good ol' dad overheard the convo and went off to do just that. All the scarecrows have to be brought back to life so they can be controlled! Sticks talks his Dad out of it but Mark has great timing and shows up in his scarecrow costume. Stanley reads the incantation with a horrified Sticks looking on. He finally comes to his senses and gets the kids to run and warn the grandparents. The whole lot of them end up getting chased back home by an angry mob of living scarecrows. It seems they wont obey Stanley. Jodie's sneeze that makes Mark jump shows who they will follow. Mark. Dressed like scarecrow. He pulls off his scarecrow head to make them all do the same. It doesn't work though. Imagine that, beings with no internal organs brought to life by magic don't need their head connected. What actually saves the day? Sticks and some good old fashioned torches. With the scarecrows in cinders, Stanley proclaims that never again will this happen.

In the end, despite raising an unholy army of Scarecrows in order to exert his will on the grandparents they seem to keep him on at the farm. Very forgiving of him. Also, despite the horror his superstition book brought he continues reading it, just not the scarecrow chapter. Finally able to enjoy the stay at the farm, Jodie sits and relaxes. Wait, is that taxidermy bear moving? DAMN IT STANLEY!

 What I Thought

The bulk of the book is like every single Goosebumps and it's almost not worth talking about. If I was motivated I would make a checklist. Lets just run down a small list of details it had. 90's references (Walkman, Gameboy, Nirvana), generic tween main character, 1st person narration (which seems to have become the norm), trying to scream but no sound coming out, spooky dream sequence, someone being scared simply by someone grabbing their shoulder... So it comes down to focusing on what is unique about this book.

Firstly, what is unique would be the monsters. Scarecrows can be kind of creepy. A magically enchanted one can be extra creepy. It has to be sort of sinister though. These were just sort of aimless meandering piles of straw. They were also thwarted in the most obvious way possible. In a way I kind of liked that though. It's sort of like the Indiana Jones fight where the bad guy does a really fancy display with his sword and then Indie just shoots him. Instead of a very clever solution the simple straight forward burning up the guys made of kindling was the ultimate solution.

Also unique is that the "bad guy" wasn't really so bad. That is, if you consider Stanley to be the bad guy since he is the one who summons the scarecrow minions. I mean, he was a douche because he tried to force the grandparents into accommodating him. But making him "slow" made him a bit sympathetic. Regardless it is complete lunacy that they kept him hired at the farm at the end.

If you consider the scarecrows to be the badguy, well, they are disappointing. They don't do anything interesting and they are thwarted with ease. Even before Sticks gets the fire he manages to incapacitate one bare handed. They have no motivation as evil entities. Do they want to be scarecrow overlords of the world? Do they want control of the farm? Do they just want some corn? Do they want anything at all? Nope, they just roam around looking kinda spooky and being vaguely menacing.

One minor note I'd like to bring up is the title. It shouldn't be the scarecrow singular. It should be the Scarecrows Walk at Midnight. Actually it should be The Scarecrows Walk Whenever. The time of day didn't seem particularly important to their walking activities. I suppose that isn't as spooky a title though.

In the end this book is a forgettable entry to a vast collection of books. Nothing stands out as particularly interesting. Still, like all the books it's a bit of fun with a spooky slant. If you like Goosebumps it's just another book to read, and if you don't this isn't the book that's going to convince you they are great.

Rating 2 out of 5 scarecrows

Up Next!

I have gone through the first 20 Goosebumps books! Assuming I paid full price for these back in the day that is roughly 60 bucks worth of literature. Crazy! And what I am I gonna do now that I have gone through the first 20? 

 I'm gonna read Goosebumps #21 Go Eat Worms! I like books with exclamations in the title! Worms are kind of gross. The title sort of reminds me of the book How to Eat Fried Worms. That was a pretty good book. Will this be anything like that? Undoubtedly not! Until then, Happy Birthday to me and thanks for reading.